This week at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, we heard a number of impassioned speeches offering different visions for America's future. But perhaps more interesting than what the candidates said is what they didn't say.
Our economic justice writer Imara Jones addressed Obama's surprising silence about the disproportionate levels of unemployment in black and brown communities, saying:
The president's proposals would have a dramatic and substantial impact on unemployment in communities of color, so much so that it would go a long way towards getting our entire economy back on track. With it, we'd be adding three times the number of jobs per month than is currently the case.
The great mystery is why Obama refuses to talk about his jobs initiative in this way. Why won't the president let the words "I have a plan to end historic levels of black and Latino joblessness" leave his mouth?
In response, Georgia NeSmith commented:
Could it be that it's the racist climate pegging Obama as "that foreigner from Kenya," aka "the Foodstamp President" makes it difficult for Obama to talk about race? He used to speak quite eloquently to the issues, before he became president.
As a white female (former) college professor I found that students would listen to points about gender oppression if they came from a man, whereas they often saw females making exactly the same points as simply being "disgruntled [curse word here] with an axe to grind." Ditto with whites vs. blacks talking about racism. This personal observation was supported by research.
Watch. Once Obama wins his second term and gets some major economic bills through Congress, Obama will come out swinging on racial disparities. Especially if he gets the Congress he needs instead of the obstructionist opposition.
Joemillerjd provided some historical context:
It is agonizing indeed. Mr. Obama's opponents are the progenitors of the elites who made race a wedge issue during Reconstruction. Once he opens the door, it will be a field day. If he's lucky, that old Reverend Wright footage will re-emerge. If not, he could find himself in a Willie Horton type of situation, which would be disastrous. Romney hasn't talked much about race either -- it's almost like he is waiting for Obama to open the door.
Erika Thorne agreed, adding:
Throughout the late 1800s and the first 60 years of the 1900s, white politicians and power brokers used any means necessary (and I use that phrase advisedly) to keep African Americans from gaining political power. Now we're in the midst of the biggest assault on voting rights for people of color since the riots, murders and political maneuvering that ended reconstruction. (Voter ID laws, former felons denied the vote for life laws, deportation & disenfranchisement of Latina/o immigrants, for example.)
I completely agree with Jones' analysis, and how painful this reality is. I am urging everyone I know who works for racial justice to understand the dynamics and history of these types of silences from the president, and help get the vote out for Obama.
Sara Willig noted that race isn't the only thing Obama hasn't mentioned, but that all his (and Romney's) talk about the middle class ignored the existence of those with even less secure financial futures:
I think I know why he won't bring it up - Obama (and all Rep and Dem candidates) seem to be only interested in talking about the Middle Class. It's weird when you consider that the Lower/Working Class is the most numerous in the country. Romney openly dissed us, but Obama ignores us.
While Obama avoided the topic of race entirely, Romney addressed it using the coded language of taxes and welfare. Imara again:
Republicans use the issue of taxes to explain away falling incomes and fewer opportunities for advancement amongst middle and working class whites. All middle class and working class Americans are under pressure, ironically from many of the policies that Republicans promote, but this is an argument designed to garner the votes of a specific constituency.
In this ahistorical "us vs. them" view of America's past, taxes are the source of reverse-race unfairness; an unfairness that grew as a result of programs to promote racial and economic justice in the 1960s. This view holds that taxes take from the hardworking and give to the undeserving. Welfare, a program inaccurately seen as fostering sloth amongst black and brown Americans, is Exhibit A for everything that's gone wrong. The fact that these caricatures are grounded in 500 years of racial stereotypes is what makes them so potent.
The U.S. government spends more on corporate welfare than social welfare any day of the week. But you would not know that by listening to the campaign. The traditional theory pushed by the republicans is that cutting social programs is the way to prosperity, that can't be true since the bulk of spending is tied up in corporate welfare. So the government spends roughly 50% more on corporate welfare than it does on these particular public assistance programs. This certainly does not align with the ideal that the so-called welfare queens are the bulk of the problem in the U.S. [...] Welfare recipients are a small minority in this country; there is no gigantic wave of indigent people with packs of wild children threatening to take over the country as the campaign want you to believe.